A couple of truck drivers were about to call it a night when they suddenly felt compelled to keep going. Because they had decided to do one last thing before parking for the night, they happened upon a fiery crash. It was obvious the driver was already deceased, but they felt the need to remove his body from the wreckage. That’s when they soon realized he wasn’t alone.
Steven Hill and Jason Nelson, who are both moving truck drivers from Michigan, were completing deliveries in Florida and about to call it a night when something compelled them to break from their normal routine. Rather than get some sleep and wait until morning, Hill and Nelson decided they would drop off a trailer at a client’s house in Jacksonville — a task they almost chose to do hours later, Patch reports.
For reasons they cannot explain, other than being the hand of God guiding them, the pair decided to complete the task that night, even though it was getting late. Because they decided to keep driving, Hill and Nelson soon found themselves in the right place at the right time.
While driving along Interstate 95 sometime after 1 a.m., the two men saw something glowing in the brush along the road. Initially, they believed it was a homeless encampment that was ablaze, but as they drew nearer, they realized it was a barely recognizable vehicle. “It was like a tin can somebody crumpled up — it was indescribable,” Hill recalled.
“It was not a car,” Hill added, but it was indeed a fiery vehicle — or what was left of it. As they reached the blaze, they decided to check to see if anyone was inside the car. It became “abundantly clear” that the driver, later identified as 31-year-old Daniel Dufek, was already dead.
Thinking of Dufek’s family, Hill and Nelson knew they couldn’t stand by and let his body burn. His family deserved that final dignity for their loved one, the men reasoned. So, they leaped into action, hoping to pull Dufek’s body from the wreckage before there wasn’t anything left of the man.
As they climbed inside and tried to retrieve the body, which was buckled in the driver’s seat, they realized Daniel Dufek wasn’t alone when his 2004 GMC Envoy veered off the road, slamming into trees and flipping over, CBS Action News reported. After seeing movement in the flames, the soon-to-be heroes realized Dufek’s 1-year-old daughter Ava was strapped in her car seat in the back, and the little girl was still alive.
“Steve noticed there was a baby in the backseat, and said, ‘Oh my God, there’s a baby.’ At first, we did not see the baby. The flames were up — they were up,” an emotional Nelson said as he recalled finding little Ava trapped in the backseat of the burning car.
“God put me there for a reason, put me and Jason there for a reason, obviously — to save that little baby,” Hill said. And, that’s exactly what they did. “I just jumped back in, over the deceased father,” Hill said. Although it wasn’t easy, he managed to free the baby from her car seat restraints, grab her, and run from the blaze just in time.
Meanwhile, Nelson removed Daniel Dufek’s body from the wreckage and also got away just in time. Seconds later, the vehicle’s gas tank caught fire and the car exploded, but luckily, Ava wasn’t inside when it happened — thanks to two good Samaritans who risked their own safety for complete strangers.
“Thank God, thank God,” Jason Nelson said. “It was like perfect timing.” Indeed, had they been a moment sooner, they may have missed the wreck, and had they been a moment later, they would have been too late.
Ava was “cooing and crying a little bit” as she and her new heroes waited for paramedics to arrive on the scene. She was transported to UF Health Jacksonville, where she was determined to be in critical condition, NY Daily News reported.
Ava had at least four broken bones, abrasions to an ear and her forehead, and bleeding in her brain, but she was expected to recover, according to USA Today. Hill was left with visible burn marks on his arms, according to MLive, but he said checking the car for survivors was their only choice — even if they barely made it out alive.
“There was no way I was going to let a baby die, no way,” Hill said. “I’d burn first for sure,” he added. “I just want to know how she’s doing, if she’s OK,” he said. “It will stay with me. I just wish I could kind of find out what this little girl turns out to be,” he continued, before expressing his hopes for little Ava’s life.
“Hopefully, she has children of her own, at least that. That’s a great thing. You don’t have to be president to be something special. You can be a mom and grandma,” Hill said. After being given a fighting chance because two men were willing to risk their lives for hers, Ava might be able to do just that.